If preseason prognostications are any indication, this year’s MIAA football race could be as entertaining as any in recent memory.
Perennial power Northwest Missouri topped both the MIAA coaches and media polls, released Tuesday in conjunction with the conference’s football media day at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan., but results suggest the Bearcats should face some serious challenges.
Northwest Missouri edged reigning league champion Fort Hays State by a single point in the coaches poll (103-102) and by only seven in voting by the media (382-375). The Bearcats garnered four first-place votes from the coaches and 14 first-place ballots from the media.
Northwest Missouri returns 11 starters from last year’s 9-3 squad.
"Preseason polls don't mean a whole heck of a lot," Northwest Missouri second-year coach Rich Wright said. "Would I have preferred to be picked third or fourth? You bet your you know what."
Fort Hays, meanwhile, received five first-place nods from the coaches and 13 from the media. A year ago, the Tigers went undefeated during the regular season before falling to Ferris State 31-21 during the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
"We're still going to play with a chip on our shoulders; after the rankings came out we're still behind Northwest," FHSU tight end Matt Wendelberger said. "We still fell disrespected, but that's fine. Look at where we were last year (picked fifth). We finished on top and that's all that matters."
FHSU returns 13 starters from that 11-1 team, including quarterback Jacob Mezera as well as second-leading rusher Charles Tigner and second-leading receiver Layne Bieberle.
Central Missouri and Pittsburg State finished third and fourth, respectively, in both polls. Central Missouri, 9-3 a year ago, received two first-place votes from the coaches and six from the media. Pitt State, 8-4 during the 2017 campaign, received one first-place vote from the media.
Emporia State and Central Oklahoma tied for fifth in the coaches poll with 67 points apiece, followed by Washburn (63) in the seventh position, Lindenwood (46), Missouri Western (40), Nebraska-Kearney (30), Northeastern State (19) and Missouri Southern (12).
ESU, which tied WU for sixth place in the league last year, was slotted alone in fifth by the media with 243 points. Central Oklahoma (229) was sixth with Washburn (223) again seventh. Missouri Western (171), Lindenwood (160), Nebraska-Kearney (98), Northeastern State (66) and Missouri Southern (45) rounded out the media selections.